Marijuana Found to Shrink Aggressive Brain Cancer

Those who are familiar with marijuana know there are a variety
of medical applications, from treating
nausea
to helping to alleviate the symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such
as Crohn’s
Disease
.
Today, however, scientists are finding that medical marijuana, when used
in conjunction with other forms of cancer treatment, is capable of
shrinking some of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer known to
science. Here’s what you need to know:

Cannabis as a Treatment for Glioma

Glioma
is a form of cancer that develops in the supportive tissue of the human
brain. This tissue is designed to enhance neuron function and when a
tumor begins to grow within it, the affected person experiences nausea,
headaches, vision changes, altered behavior and personality changes.
Patients affected by glioma are subject to a bleak 5 percent survival
rate
over three
years.

Until now, the treatment options for glioma have been limited to surgery
and chemotherapy in the event of high-grade tumors. Today, however, this
may be changing. According to a 2014
study

conducted by oncologist Wai Lu at St. George’s University of London,
cannabinoids like THC and CBD are highly efficient at destroying glioma
cells. During a clinical study, Lu found that CBD and THC alone were
capable of killing roughly half of the glioma cells present in affected
mice. When these cannabinoids were used in conjunction with
radiotherapy, however, the treatment caused the tumors in several of the
mice to stop growing entirely.

Additionally, Lu found that when THC and CBD were used together to treat
tumors, researchers could use less of each compound and still achieve
the same effects. This is important because THC is psychoactive and can
cause unwanted psychoactive side effects for people receiving treatment.
Fortunately, when combined with CBD, THC can be used in smaller doses
and patients receiving treatment can reap the medical benefits of the
compound without any of the "high" feelings traditionally associated
with it.

How Cannabis Works to Treat Brain Cancer

While the results of Lu’s study are exciting, researchers are still
working to figure out how, exactly, THC and CBD are producing these
effects. According to Lu, the answer may be that the cannabinoids are
preparing neural pathways for radiotherapy. "We think that the
cannabinoids are hitting a number of cell signaling pathways, which
primes them to the effects of irradiation," Lu
says
.
Once the cells have been primed, the ability of a tumor cell to rebuild
itself is damaged and the tumor cells die as a result. The outstanding
thing about this treatment, however, is that while THC and CBD have been
shown to kill glioma cells, they don’t produce any negative effects in
the healthy cell tissue surrounding the glial cells. In fact,
cannabinoids may even [protect these
cells](http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq# cit/section_4.3)
from damage.

While the results of Lu’s study are particularly exciting given the
aggressive and often-fatal nature of glioma, this is not the first
evidence researchers have of cannabis being used to treat different
forms of cancer. Cannabis contains upward of 85 different cannabinoids,
and previous
studies
have
shown that these cannabinoids are capable of killing various types of
cancer cells. This research has given scientists a place to start when
evaluating the use of CBD and THC for cancer treatment.

Marijuana and Cancer Prevention

In addition to the recent findings that cannabinoids may be an effective
treatment for glioma, researchers have discovered over the years that
marijuana may also have powerful anti-tumor effects, which could stop
cancer from ever forming in the first place. While the research isn’t
new, it paved the way for further evaluations of the connection between
cannabis and cancer. In one 1996
study
,
researchers found that lab mice given doses of THC over a two-year
period experienced a decrease in the rate of certain cancers and benign
tumors in areas such as the pancreas, uterus, testes and mammary tissue.

More recent research has shed some light on how cannabis produces these
effects. According to a 2014
study

published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, THC acts on
cannabinoid cell receptors to inhibit the interactions between them,
thus decreasing the risk that cancer will form or interrupting cancer
that is already growing. Further research has shown that THC is capable
of decreasing the rate of lung cancer cell
growth

by 50 percent as well as preventing pre-existing cancer from
metastasizing throughout the body. Studies have also shown that cannabis
is capable of killing brain cancer
cells
. The
anti-cancer benefits of cannabis are extensive and clearly noted, and,
when used correctly, can help providers offer powerful cancer treatment
without the dangerous and uncomfortable side-effects present in other
treatment options.

Moving Forward: The Future of Marijuana and Glioma

Lu’s 2014 study was groundbreaking in the world of glioma research and,
while further research is needed to put his findings into action on a
large scale, it’s clear that cannabis may be more powerful than
researchers previously thought when it comes to treating aggressive
forms of cancer. In addition to offering relief from many of the
symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment (such as nausea,
vomiting, pain and decreases in
appetite
),
cannabis also boasts an extensive list of anti-tumor and cancer-treating
properties. These properties present huge opportunities for treatment to
cancer patients and their families, and have the potential to alter the
face of cancer treatment forever.

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